Effects of Single Parents on Children
Single-parent households are growing in prevalence, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey. Latest statistics for 2013 indicate that single-parent households make up 27.8 percent of all family groups, increasing since 2007. Some single-parent households may originate in this state, not due to an event, but other single-parent households occur after a death or upon divorce. The effects of single parents on children depend on several variables, including the presence of extended family support for both parent and children.
Making Time Count
Most single parents need to work to support their families. Working full time might reduce the time a single parent spends with kids, which may or may not have a negative effect on the family. As a result of less family time, the parent and children can choose to value and prioritize the reduced time to make it more special, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org website 2. With effort, single parents and their children can be closer. Kids can also enjoy relationships with other family members, such as grandparents, to supplement the parent-child relationship. In homes where the parent doesn’t allocate enough quality time for children, behavioral problems may result and academic performance can suffer, according to the authors of a journal article titled “Wrinkles in Parental Time with Children." 3
Single and Stressing
Anxiety and stress can plague single-parent households as the one parent tries to juggle the responsibilities typically shared by two people, the American Psychological Association advises 4. The stress can arise from visitation and custody problems, including difficulty scheduling visits, upheaval for children dividing their time between multiple households, and legal issues involving visitation and custody. Single-parent households can also struggle with stress from financial strain. If the parent feels anxiety connected with finances, the anxiety can transfer negatively to the children, which can result in problems, including misbehavior. Children may also not receive necessities because of strain on financial resources.
Although child supervision can lag in any type of family, single-parent homes often struggle in this area simply because one parent is striving to do the task alone instead of sharing it with another parent 5. Children living with one parent instead of two parents are at a higher risk for neglect, states Anne-Marie Ambert, Ph.D., professor with the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ontario, Canada 5. If children in a single-parent household don’t receive adequate supervision because of the parent’s employment, behavioral problems can occur. Ideally, parents know where children are, what they are doing and who they are with. The single parent’s schedule may be so busy that the parent becomes less involved with the children and their school, extracurricular and leisure activities. Single parents also need to work much harder to supervise children than a married parent does, usually with fewer resources available to assist, Ambert states in her report on one-parent families 2.
The single-parent home is one of several family types at risk of issues from adultification and parentification of children, warns licensed clinical social worker Allan Schwartz, with the Geminus Corporation in Indiana 56. Adultification involves treating a child as an adult, confiding in the child or leaning on the child for emotional support. Parentification involves placing parental demands on an older child, either to care for himself or to care for the parent, according to licensed psychologist Benjamin D. Garber, in a report published on HealthyParent.com. Single parents who do not have an effective support system may turn to children for emotional support, which can have a negative impact on kids, warns clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, writing for Psychology Today. Children may experience anxiety and worry if a single parent leans on them, confides inappropriately or involves children in co-parenting disputes. The result can be children feeling fearful, sad or insecure. Children may also cope by trying to escape with overeating or by playing video games excessively, Firestone warns.
- Census.gov: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012
- HealthyChildren.org: Single Parent Families
- Michigan Family Review: Wrinkles in Parental Time with Children: Work, Family Structure, and Gender
- American Psychological Association: Single Parenting and Today's Family
- The Vanier Institute of the Family: One Parent Families
- Geminus Corporation: Family Boundaries and the Parentified Child
- Psychology Today: How Your Relationship Impacts Your Kids
- Feverpitched/iStock/Getty Images